Category Archives: Retrofit

Who Pays for Pollution?

I recently flew cross-country and sat in a window seat which I typically do not like to do. However, on that day the visibility was tremendous and the pilot indicated that it was clear for hundreds of miles. As we crossed the Rockies, I was treated to views of snow-covered mountains and the pristine parks that surrounded them. As we made our way past Chicago, grief struck me as a result of what I saw. One-half-dozen power plants became visible, all undoubtedly filled with coal as a toxic blue haze discharged from each of them. The thought of the amount of pollutants being released into our atmosphere is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact that we are still talking about clean air as a pipe dream and that the “theories” of global warming and acid rain are the creation of environmentalists delusions.

Ironically, on that same flight, I read two stories in the paper. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is requiring a New Mexico coal-fired power plant, with one of the nation’s worst emissions records, to upgrade their emissions controls (Coal Plant Would Get New Controls). A local politician was up in arms over the fact that the utility company had to spend $717 million to make this upgrade. He indicated it would cost close to 1,000 jobs and that the government should not make the plant perform the upgrade. Meanwhile, he ignores the fact that this upgrade would add jobs as the technology and installation would be performed by American citizens. Jobs don’t disappear – they just shift from one politician’s region to another.

In the same newspaper, Governor Christie of New Jersey threatened to pull the State of New Jersey’s portion of funding for the new rail tunnel to New York City for reasons that are, in my opinion, politically fueled and nothing more (Christie Halts Train Tunnel Citing its Cost). The tunnel is said to reduce the congestion of commuters into Manhattan and remove thousands of cars off the road that would have normally driven. Gov. Christie asserts that “the state just cannot afford its share of the project’s rising cost”.  However, halting the tunnel project would also cost the region an estimated 6,000 construction jobs.

I think these two politicians need to talk. One wants to hold onto jobs for the sake of sacrificing our air, while the other wants to eliminate jobs due to political constraints.  Both are willing to sacrifice our environment for political gain. I don’t understand the mentality that some people are willing to put other issues ahead of protecting our environment. I am not naïve; I understand that the economy is not robust. We all need to survive this recession and move on. But, why should we sacrifice the environment in the process?

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Filed under carbon, greenhouse emissions, Retrofit, Uncategorized

Stirring the Debate on Greenhouse Emissions

I am deeply concerned over the battle in California involving carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article in the NY Times (California Braces for Showdown on Emissions), Californians will go to the polls on November 2 to vote on whether or not to suspend A.B. 32, the law which mandates cutting carbon and other greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This ballot initiative (Proposition 23) would suspend tight emissions standards from going into effect.

Proponents of Proposition 23 believe that the government should not be spending money on carbon reduction; that our focus should be on putting Americans back to work. They believe that the bill would cost the state jobs and raise energy prices.

Last time I checked, oil company profits just set record highs. If Proposition 23 is passed, I am not sure how this measure would create jobs. If the battle is over jobs, I would think retrofitting their plants to reduce their emissions and energy consumption would create more jobs than would be lost. I also find it hard to believe that if a person had to pay an additional $2 a week on gasoline, he would be forced into bankruptcy.

The bigger issue for me is the fundamental reason why they are trying to defeat A.B. 32 in the first place. Is cleaner air and reduction of global warming not important enough? Or, will the people that are making money hand over fist in this industry by having their pockets lined by special interest groups triumph again? If they took the money they are pouring into defeating A.B. 32 and put it towards reducing emissions, oil companies would spend a lot less, and more savings would be passed on to the customer.

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Filed under A.B. 32, Energy, energy efficiency, Proposition 23, Retrofit

Roadblocks to Energy Efficiency

What will it take for consumers to understand that the energy they use can be managed more effectively? This summer was one of the hottest on record in the Northeast and as I sit and write this latest blog, the temperature has reached a blistering 90°. During these hot periods, the energy demand that is being placed on homes, businesses and facilities skyrockets. The demand for energy increases and the desire to create a larger infrastructure continues to rise. What will it take for the general public to realize that this is an issue?

Sadly, consumers remain largely uninformed on what needs to be done to reduce energy consumption, which would also reduce the amount of carbon emissions that are released into the environment. One would think that consumers would want to reduce their energy consumption since the added benefit would be a reduction in their utility bills. However, with the economy in the state that it is in, people are unwilling to dole out money upfront to reduce energy consumption, (e.g., to conduct an energy study of existing facilities, equipment upgrades, correcting maintenance issues, etc.) even if this investment would be returned in 6 months.

The economy has put a crimp on our long term outlook and not given us a path to make the improvements that are necessary to reduce our energy bills. For example, the banks have put a limit on the amount of larger equipment financing – which is essential to finance an energy efficiency project.

The one place left for us to turn to for help is the government, but there always seems to be a catch. Rebates and incentives have been limited, at best. Money that has been allocated for energy spending hasn’t hit the streets. Even the general buzz on the internet as of late is, “Where has all the stimulus money gone?” The truth is it has not been spent (Energy Funds Went Unspent, U.S. Auditor Says) as is stated in the NY Times. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal (White House Under Fire for Unspent Infrastructure Cash), less than 30% of the stimulus money has been spent for shovel ready projects. If the government were to begin using these earmarked funds for what they were intended, the boost could help the economy in the short term and provide some long term benefits to the environment. Instead, it has decided that the stimulus money is better spent on repaving roads that are infrequently used or that have already been repaved in the last five years. I do have to admit though – that fresh asphalt sure is smooth.

As a professional in the engineering/construction industry, I feel it is my duty to be the impetus for change. This is why this blog was created, why speaking at conferences to educate building owner’s as often as possible is important to me, and keeping well informed on any government action is a top priority – all to push forward the great benefits of being energy efficient. Which leaves us with this question, “What can you do?”

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Filed under Building efficiency, energy audit, energy efficiency, Retrofit, stimulus funds

Keep Your Money from Going Out the Window

We’ve all been told as children – “Turn off the lights when you’re not in the room” and “Don’t leave the water running when you’re brushing your teeth.” Now, there’s so much more we can do to conserve energy and resources in our homes and businesses. There is heightened awareness that our “small and insignificant” actions collectively have great impact on the environment and personal/corporate budgets.

To know how much energy we spend (or waste); we need to assess the situation and come up with a baseline. Just like we all go to the doctor every year and take our cars in for inspection, our homes and offices need the same check-ups. Hence, the energy audit. In short, an energy audit is a way to determine the energy consumption of a building. These audits can help individuals see where money and energy are going out the window (sometimes literally). For one of our clients, we found they were using 2.28 times the average electricity and 1.65 times the natural gas for buildings of their type. We identified 15 Energy Conservation Measures totaling a possible savings of $615,000 and approximately 30% reduction in energy use. These audits help identify troublespots in the property and methods for improving the building’s performance. Alterations can be as simple as changing light bulbs or as complex as overhauling the heating and cooling systems.

Being efficient is more than saving money; it’s about preserving our natural resources and minimizing our impact on the environment. Many elite corporations are leading the charge by greening their business practices and supply chains. They’re educating their employees on how to make eco-friendly decisions. Further, they’re investing in their buildings via retrofits and even building according to green standards such as LEED.

Building green is booming because this generation demands socially responsible corporations and healthful work environments. Unfortunately, some still cite heavy upfront costs as an obstacle to building green – materials are more expensive, the LEED process comes with additional costs and it just takes more planning and innovation.

Great ideas, innovation and progress come from challenging situations fraught with limited resources. In the case of building green, the financial aspect is favorable to the cause. A USGBC-funded study of LEED buildings in NYC found that there was no significant price differential for construction costs between LEED and traditional buildings. According to the analysis, the average construction cost for a LEED high-rise residential building was $440/sf and $436/sf for non-LEED. I think an extra $4/sf investment is worth it, especially since the returns include better air quality, lowered utility bills, increased productivity and less pollution-spewing buildings.

If we’re going to tackle the looming issue of global warming, we need to take one conscientious step at a time – whether it’s turning off the light, doing an energy audit, investing in a retrofit or starting from scratch and building green.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, Retrofit

Building Commissioning for Existing Buildings

Building commissioning is one of the most compelling, and yet least understood, strategies for managing energy consumption, cost and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the DOE, 54% of commercial buildings were built in 1979 or before. Times change quickly and the way we conduct business now is completely different from five years ago, let alone 20+ years ago. Technological advances have changed the entire paradigm for building operations. In addition, building ownership changes hands over the lifetime of the property leading to clashes between current occupant needs and original design intent. Since only a small number of buildings incorporate commissioning from the get-go, it’s crucial to implement commissioning plans for existing buildings.

A recent Department of Energy sponsored study conducted by Evan Mills, Ph.D. of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs highlighted the cost-benefits of commissioning in new and existing buildings. Mills found that existing building commissioning projects cost $0.30/ft² and have a payback time of 1.1 years. Of the existing buildings analyzed in this study, over 6,000 energy-related problems were found through commissioning. Addressing these problems resulted in 16% whole building energy savings! At Horizon Engineering Associates, we conducted a case study of the Allen Park Public Schools in Michigan and found that our commissioning services saved the school over a quarter million dollars in utility costs within the first year. These findings prove that building commissioning is the single most effective vehicle to reducing green house gases and energy costs in America.

Also worth mentioning is changes in terminology over the years, causing some confusion as to what type of commissioning program is required. To eliminate this miscommunication, what was once called “retro-commissioning” or “re-commissioning,” is now identified as “Existing Building Commissioning” (EB-Cx). Both ASHRAE and the Building Commissioning Association (BCA) have adapted this change in terminology to create a standard within the industry.

To help owners and developers navigate the four phases of EB-Cx (planning, investigation, implementation and turnover), the BCA created a “Best Practices” document.

Commissioning is a cost-effective means for ensuring a healthy and efficient building. Owners and developers should consider partnering with a commissioning authority to meet their financial targets, as well as our country’s ever-growing “green” agenda. It would be wasteful and irresponsible to let these buildings run their course without taking all available resources and methods to improving their performance. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it saves a few bucks in the process!

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, energy audit, energy efficiency, Retrofit

Should We Be Energy Efficient Only When it Hurts Our Wallet?

Riding through my hometown, I noticed that the price of gas was starting to creep up again. This week it averaged $2.89/gallon – a far cry from the $4.00+/gallon we were paying last year. When gas was $4.00/gallon, people would sneer at the SUV drivers and seemingly overnight, everyone wanted to drive a hybrid. Now that the price of gas has dropped, does anyone still care?

It’s apparent that the consequences to a person’s wallet are directly proportional to their interest/concern in fixing the problem. This concerns me as we talk about carbon footprints, greenhouse emissions and polluting the environment. The “as long as it doesn’t affect me” mentality that exists in this country will continue to dominate society. When gas gets back to $4.00/gallon, will we be scrambling to drive a hybrid again? We are becoming fair weather energy efficiency supporters.

The same amount of carbon emissions are produced at $2.89/gallon as they are at $4.00/gallon. We need to be constantly vigilant of our energy consumption – in our cars, homes and businesses. It appalls me that, as a society, we are not concerned about energy efficiency until it hurts our wallets. Improving energy efficiency should be something we are always doing.

I was struck by an article in the New York Times that spoke of oil companies abandoning their efforts to drill, as it no longer made fiscal sense because of the reduced price of oil. I would think trying to find new oil reserves would be a top priority in decreasing our reliance on foreign oil supplies. Aircraft and military machinery will not be using renewable technology in the foreseeable future. The sheer power needed in such a short period of time can only be generated from an internal combustible engine (a battery would be inadequate). Therefore, let’s find those extra deposits and leave them in the ground for a rainy day. Don’t abandon the effort. The reality is the price of oil will rebound and fuel will be needed.

During a visit to our office in St. Louis, I was shocked by the lack of awareness towards energy efficiency. It costs roughly 5¢ per KW in St. Louis, while in the Northeast it averages 15¢ per KW. Triple! Compare the interest in energy efficiency in these two areas – increased cost equals increased interest.

Energy efficiency needs to be on all of our minds and we should always be thinking about saving energy every chance we get. This should not be merely a cost-driven exercise, but a focus because we are wasting our resources and polluting the environment.

Sadly, the economic features will always exist and if big oil is not making a buck then why should they drill? The greater society is no different then big oil. If consumers aren’t saving money, will they care about being energy efficient? We owe it to our children’s children and the environment to be energy efficient, all the time.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, energy audit, energy efficiency, Retrofit, Uncategorized

Reflections from a Recent Hotel Stay

On a recent trip to one of my offices in St. Louis I stayed in a well-know national hotel chain. As I walked into the lobby, I was greeted by a mini-wind turbine on the front desk and was pleasantly surprised to see this hotel’s support for being green.

As I got into my room, I saw a small placard in the bathroom that stated the hotel’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly and encouraged guests to reuse their towels. It went on about the millions of gallons of water and detergent used to wash towels daily and how it was unnecessary waste if the towel was still clean.

Sitting on the couch, I noticed the lights were left on by housekeeping, TV was tuned to a local station for my enjoyment and most notably the air conditioner was set to a chilly 65 degrees turning my eyebrows into icicles. I sat back and reflected on all of this and thought, “Do they really care about being green? What about their sign in the bathroom…maybe they just don’t want to spend money on laundry?”

My curiosity got the best of me. After shutting off the TV, turning off the lights and opening up the curtains to let light in, I called the front desk and inquired about the true meaning behind the placard. After questioning the very polite hotel manager, I found out that laundry wasn’t even done on-site. So, the placard is not about wasted water, detergent or staff; it’s about saving money and the bottom line. Less towels means less laundry, which means less to pay the launderer. Speaking of the launderer, does the hotel know whether they have any green practices, like using environmentally-friendly detergent, recycling the water or conserving energy?

I’ve seen similar placards all across the country and can’t help but think it’s a PR tactic to make me feel better about staying at their “forward-thinking-clean-green-therefore-expensive” hotel. I would rather they say, “Please help us keep your rates down by using your towel more than once.”

If the hotel is going to be environmentally-friendly, it would have more impact on me by keeping the air conditioner off when someone is not in the room, keeping the lights off or put them on motion sensors and keeping the TV off. Also, I would love to see a recycling bin and a sign that reads, “When you’re done with the beverage we’ve conveniently placed in your refrigerator and ripped you off by charging $5, please put it in the recycling bin provided.”

As I checked out, I asked the young man at the front desk when the last time someone used my room. He said business was a little slow and it had been four days since someone was in there. So much for the wind turbine.

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Filed under Building efficiency, commissioning, energy audit, energy efficiency, Retrofit